• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Thursday 10th September, 2009

Maine people in normal hats rescue kids from drugs

Visions of a civil society in which science becomes an integral aspect of effective community policy making were spirited together for the Director of White House Drug Control Policy and the worldwide online fraternity of preventionists yesterday.The moment was a webcast organized by the US National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) to coincide with publication of evidence about the successful performance of the Communities that Care “operating system” in randomized controlled trials in Maine.Five communities implemented the expert-guided, self-help approach to service design developed by David Hawkins and his Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington, Seattle.And yesterday’s event put Hawkins, White House “drug czar” Gil Kerlikowske and NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow in the same virtual Town Hall with some of the people of Appleton, Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport to celebrate the results.It was highly orchestrated encounter, during which the prevention science wordbook passed between the police chief, the businessman, the parent, the child and the pastor with disconcerting ease.The view from Fran Harding, Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention at the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration was more compelling.Wherever the system was introduced, participants in Communities that Care came to the table wearing their “normal hats,” she explained. That was the key: policy makers and regulators and enforcers combining expertise to bring about normative change. And with the data to support them and proven programs at their command, they were no longer, as another speaker put it, “just making their best guess”.The procedure was described by David Hawkins: the catalog of scientifically defined risk factors (Maine had identified nine from 20), the menu of proven interventions from which they could choose, and the further refinement of the evidence that their own experience allowed.In the case of drug abuse prevention strategies, community trials and control group comparisons had shown a marked difference in risk in the critical period between 7th and 8th grades, he said. The “initiation” rate into drug use had been cut by a third, a figure which community program leader Dalene Dutton said translated into 66% reduction in marijuana use among eighth graders. “We can have population effects in prevention,” Hawkins said later. “We now have the science to help us make wise choices.”Gil Kerlikowske left early but took the point. The Obama administration was soon to publish a national drugs strategy; prevention and treatment of the sort he had heard described would play an important role.Why read a potted account? The webcast in its entirety has been posted on the NIDA Virtual Town Hall website.And tomorrow Prevention Action will publish findings from the evaluation of the CtC activity in Maine and elsewhere in the US.• For more about David Hawkins’s prevention efforts in the UK, and particularly in Birmingham where he has been advising the city on the development of its services development strategy, see Prevention Action’s Birmingham Brighter Futures special issue.• For more about emerging US policy on community "coalitions,” and the announcement of $21 million in Drug Free Communities (DFC) grants to 161 communities across the country, see White House Drug Czar Awards $21 Million to Local Community Coalitions Addressing Youth Substance Use

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